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Psychological impact of divorce

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Emotional implications Edit

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Divorce is often one of the most traumatic periods in a person's life. Separation and Divorce is often associated with heart wrenching emotions, unspeakable sadness, depression, anxiety and much more.



Medical and psychological implications Edit

Recent sociological studies have pointed to a variety of long-term economic, social, physical, and mental health consequences of divorce, although the full extent of such effects remains hotly debated. All the studies to date suffer from an inherent methodological weakness which researchers have not yet found a solution to: establishing the relevant baseline for comparisons. By definition, all divorces are of unhappy couples; meanwhile, those who do not divorce are some mix of happy couples and of unhappy ones who stayed married. Comparisons of life outcomes or well-being along the simple divorced/not divorced axis will therefore always show poorer outcomes for the group which is composed entirely of unhappy couples, demonstrating simply that being part of a happy couple is better than being part of an unhappy one.

Any list of articles on aftereffects of divorce would quickly become obsolete, but among the more accessible books are works by Wallerstein[1] (reports long-term negative effects of divorce on children) and Mavis Hetherington[2] (reports that not all kids fare so badly, and that divorce can actually help children living in high-conflict homes such as those with domestic violence).

Divorce and happinessEdit

Recent longtitudinal studies have reported that some divorced people are no happier after divorce. University of Chicago sociologist Linda Waite analyzed the relationships between marriage, divorce and happiness using the National Survey of Family and Households. She reported that unhappily married adults who had divorced were no happier than those who had stayed married.[3]

Effects on childrenEdit

Attempts to assess the impact of divorce on children are inherently compromised by the same methodological problem as with adults: establishing the relevant baseline for comparisons. By definition, virtually all children of divorce are from unhappy families; meanwhile, children whose parents never divorced are from some mix of happy families and unhappy ones (parents who stayed married despite an unhappy marital relationship). Comparisons of life outcomes or well-being along the simple divorced/not divorced axis naturally always show poorer outcomes for the group that is composed entirely of children of unhappy families, demonstrating simply that being the child of happy parents is better than being the child of unhappy ones. The actual question of interest is whether being a child of unhappy parents who divorce is better or worse than being a child of unhappy parents who do not divorce. Establishing data for that comparison would require being able to identify with reasonable certainty the subset of nondivorced parents who are nonetheless deeply unhappy with each other, something no researcher has found a way to do at a meaningful scale.

Main article: Children and divorce

Researchers have reported that in cases of extremely high conflict, divorce can be positive. An article in the Oklahoma Bar Journal defines "high conflict" in terms of ongoing litigation, anger and distress, verbal abuse, physical aggression or threats of physical aggression, difficulty in communicating about and cooperating in child care, or other court-determined factors.[4] studies have claimed that people who have been in divorced families: have higher rates of alcoholism and other substance abuse compared to those who have never been divorced. Robert H. Coombs, Professor of Behavioral Sciences at UCLA, reviewed over 130 studies measuring how marital status affects personal well-being. [5]

  • have higher rates of clinical depression. Family disruption and low socioeconomic status in early childhood increase the long-term risk for major depression.[6]
  • seek formal psychiatric care at higher rates. Studies vary, suggesting from 5 to 21 times the risk, and vary over whether men or women are more seriously affected.[7][8]
  • in the case of men, are more likely to commit suicide at some point in their lives, according to a study by Augustine Kposowa, a University of California at Riverside sociologist.[9]

This study quantified earlier work that estimated an increased risk of 2.7 times for men.[10] (cited in[11])

Studies have also claimed positive correlations between divorce and rates of:

  • stroke[18]
  • cancer. Married cancer patients are also more likely to recover than divorced ones.[19]
  • acute infectious diseases, parasitic diseases, respiratory illnesses, digestive illnesses, and severe injuries. See the article Black Men And Divorce: Implications For Culturally Competent Practice.[20]

In support of these particular claims, that article cites the U.S. Bureau of the Census Population profile of the United States in 1991[13] and an article by S. L. Albrecht on Reactions and adjustments to divorce.[21]

  • heart problems. Some research suggests that childhood trauma, including parental divorce, can lead to much greater risk of heart attack in later life.[22]

Combined with job stress, divorce led to a 69% increase of death rate among men with above average risk of heart disease.[23] Cited in,[24] Cites as source[25]

  • rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. A 2002 article in the Journal of Rheumatology shows a 30% increase in risk at any given age.[26] A 2003 article in the Canadian Journal of Public Health finds that parental divorce leads to increased risk of arthritis for children later in life.[27]
  • sexually transmitted diseases. For example, in Uganda "Results from a baseline survey of HIV-1 infection in the cohort of over 4,000 adults (over 12 years old) showed a twofold increase in risk of infection in divorced or separated persons when compared with those who are married."[28]

A study by Judith Wallerstein which reported some of these effects was at first criticized because the subjects were all drawn from an affluent section of California rather than a broader sample.[1] This is a real issue. However, more recent studies have repeated her conclusions and sometimes shown that her sample group was actually better off than average; of course those studies also suffered from the same broader methodological flaw described here. Families with lower income and education levels did somewhat worse than more advantaged subjects in Wallerstein's study.

References Edit

  1. 1.0 1.1 Wallerstein, Judith S.; Julia M. Lewis, and Sandra Blakeslee (2000). The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: The 25 Year Landmark Study, Hyperion. ISBN 0-7868-6394-3.
  2. Hetherington, E. Mavis; John Kelly (2002). For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered, W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-04862-4.
  3. (2003). Does Divorce Make People Happy? Findings from a Study of Unhappy Marriages. URL accessed on 2006-09-10.
  4. Bartlett, Barbara Ann (2004-02-13). Parenting Coordination: A New Tool for Assisting High-Conflict Families. Oklahoma Bar Journal.
  5. Coombs, Robert H (1991). Marital Status and Personal Well-Being: A Literature Review. Family Relations 40.
  6. Gilman, Stephen E., Ichiro Kawachi, Garrett M. Fitzmaurice, and Stephen L. Buka (May 2003). Family Disruption in Childhood and Risk of Adult Depression. American Journal of Psychiatry 160: 939-946.
  7. Marks, Nadine F., James D. Lambert (1998). Marital Status Continuity and Change among Young and Midlife Adults: Longitudinal Effects on Psychological Well-being. Journal of Family Issues 19: 652-686.
  8. Bloom, B. R.; S. W. White, and S. J. Asher (1979). "Marital Disruption as a Stressful Life Event" Divorce and Separation: Context, Causes and Consequences, New York: Basic Books.
  9. Kposawa, Augustine (2003). Divorce and suicide risk. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 57: 993.
  10. Kposowa, Augustine (2000). Marital status and suicide in the National Longitudinal Mortality Study. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 54: 254-261.
  11. Men more likely to commit suicide after divorce, study finds. URL accessed on 2006-09-10.
  12. Smock, Pamela J. (1993). The Economic Costs of Marital Disruption for Young Women over the Past Two Decades. Demography 30: 353-371.
  13. 13.0 13.1 (1995) "Current Population Reports, Special Studies, Series P-23, No. 173" Population profile of the United States: 1991, Washington, DC: Government Printing Office: U.S. Bureau of the Census.
  14. Dickson, L. (1993). The future of marriage and family in black America. Journal of Black Studies 23: 472-491.
  15. Arendell, T. (1995). Fathers and divorce, Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage Publications.
  16. Amato, P. R., B. Keith. (1991). Parental divorce and adult wellbeing: A meta-analysis. Journal of Marriage and Family 53: 43-58.
  17. Joung, I. M., et al. (1994). Differences in Self-Reported Morbidity by Marital Status and by Living Arrangement. International Journal of Epidemiology 23: 91-97.
  18. Engstrom, G., F. A. Khan, E. Zia, I. Jerntorp, H. Pessah-Rasmussen, B. Norrving, and L. Janzon (2004). Marital dissolution is followed by an increased incidence of stroke. Cerebrovascular Disease 18 (4): 318-24.
  19. Goodwin, James S., William C. Hunt, Charles R. Key and Jonathan M. Sarmet (1987). The Effect of Marital Status on Stage, Treatment, and Survival of Cancer Patients. Journal of the American Medical Association 258: 3125-3130.
  20. Lawson, Erma Jean; Tanya L. Sharpe (July 1). Black Men And Divorce: Implications For Culturally Competent Practice, Minority Health Today.
  21. Albrecht, S. L. (1980). Reactions and adjustments to divorce: differences in the experiences of males and females, 29, 59-70, Family Relations.
  22. O'Rand, Angela M., Jenifer Hamil-Luker (2005). Processes of Cumulative Adversity: Childhood Disadvantage and Increased Risk of Heart Attack Across the Life Course. Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences 60: S117-S124.
  23. Error on call to template:cite web: Parameters url and title must be specified Reuters Health.
  24. Stressful job, bad marriage ups man's death risk. Heart Center Online. URL accessed on 2006-09-10.
  25. Matthews, KA, BB Gump (2002). Chronic work stress and marital dissolution increase risk of posttrial mortality in men. Archives of Internal Medicine 162: 309-315.
  26. Mili, F., C. G. Helmick, M. M. Zack (2002). Prevalence of Arthritis: Analysis of Data from the US Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 1996-99. Journal of Rheumatology 29: 1981-1989.
  27. Kopec, J. A., E. C. Sayre (2003). Traumatic experiences in childhood and the risk of arthritis: A prospective cohort study. Canadian Journal of Public Health 95 (5): 361-65.
  28. Nabaitu, J., C. Bachengana and J. Seeley (1994). Marital instability in a rural population in south-west Uganda: implications for the spread of HIV-1 infection. Africa 64 (2): 243-51.

See AlsoEdit

Divorce

Also:Edit

  • Amato, Paul R. and Alan Booth. A Generation at Risk: Growing Up in an Era of Family Upheaval. Harvard University Press, 1997. ISBN 0-674-29283-9 and ISBN 0-674-00398-5. Reviews and information at [1]
  • Gallagher, Maggie. "The Abolition of Marriage." Regnery Publishing, 1996. ISBN 0-89526-464-1.
  • Lester, David. "Time-Series Versus Regional Correlates of Rates of Personal Violence." Death Studies 1993: 529-534.
  • McLanahan, Sara and Gary Sandefur. Growing Up with a Single Parent; What Hurts, What Helps. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994: 82.
  • Morowitz, Harold J. "Hiding in the Hammond Report." Hospital Practice August 1975; 39.
  • Office for National Statistics (UK). Mortality Statistics: Childhood, Infant and Perinatal, Review of the Registrar General on Deaths in England and Wales, 2000, Series DH3 33, 2002.
  • U.S. Bureau of the Census. Marriage and Divorce. General US survey information. [2]
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Survey of Divorce [3] (link obsolete).

Divorce's medical and psychological implications Edit

Until recently it was thought that divorce was almost always a positive experience for spouses. More recent longtitudinal studies have revealed that many divorced people are no happier after divorce (although some are). For example University of Chicago sociologist Linda Waite [Waite 2003] analyzes the relationships between marriage, divorce and happiness using the National Survey of Family and Households. Her research shows that unhappily married adults who had divorced were no happier than those who had stayed married. The 13 measures of well being include self-esteem, personal mastery, depression, purpose in life and alcohol drinks per day.

Until recently it was also thought that children's difficulties with divorce, while common, were short-lived. However, recent work has shown that a major cost to children comes long after: when they attempt to form stable marriages themselves. There is extensive and heated debate over just how much harm, just how many children are harmed to what extent, what factors mediate the harm, and so on; however, even strong optimists such as Mavis Hetherington [Hetherington 2002] acknowledge that many (not all) children of divorce are substantially disadvantaged. Hetherington (a University of Virginia professor) also states that 70% of children coming from divorced families consider divorce an adequate answer to marital problems (even if children are present), compared to only 40% of children from non-divorced families. This suggests to some that divorce rebounds upon itself from one generation to the next. In addition, children from divorced families initiate sex earlier and are more likely to cohabit before marriage. Cohabitation before marriage is correlated with an 9% greater chance of getting a divorce [Bramlett 2001].

Children from divorced families have a higher chance of behavioral problems, are six times more likely to be abused (in their step families) than children in intact families, and have a greater chance of living in poverty [Fagan 2000]. Other social consequences of divorce are also known: "offspring of divorce were more likely to engage in criminal behavior, drug use, alcoholism and suicide than children of never-divorced children (A Divorce Free America p.4)." [Troxel 2002] discusses a variety of health consequences for children of divorce.

Constance Ahron, who has published books suggesting there may be positive effects for children, interviewed ninety-eight divorced families' children for We're Still Family: What Grown Children Have to Say About Their Parents' Divorce [Ahron 2004]. Numerous subjects said things like "I saw some of the things my parents did and know not to do that in my marriage and see the way they treated each other and know not to do that to my spouse and my children. I know [the divorce] has made me more committed to my husband and my children." A primary claimed benefit of divorce for children is that they become more committed to avoiding divorce. However, children of divorce in fact divorce more often, so this putative effect provides no net benefit.

Ahron's method of asking adult children of divorce how they feel about it also has the well-known weakness of "self-report" studies. Researchers are unlikely to hear negative responses even from people who were harmed (people are unlikely to say "it destroyed me" or "I've never fully recovered" after years of adjusting to the fact of one's parents' divorce...).

In cases of extremely high conflict, divorce can be positive. An article in the Oklahoma Bar Journal [Bartlett 2004] defines "high conflict" in terms of ongoing litigation, anger and distress, verbal abuse, physical aggression or threats of physical aggression, difficulty in communicating about and cooperating in child care, or other court-determined factors. In marriages falling short of this standard, however, studies overwhelmingly find that divorce has serious costs for children's well-being.

In reviewing [Amato 1997], Norval D. Glenn and David Blankenhorn of the Los Angeles Times [4] comment that "Amato estimates that at most a third of divorces involving children are so distressed that the children are likely to benefit. The remainder, about 70%, involve low-conflict marriages that apparently harm children much less than do the realities of divorce..."

Medical statistics show that all parties to a divorce are likely (not certain) to suffer increased morbidity and mortality. See [Gallagher 1999] for additional statistics and references. For example, divorce:

  • doubles the partners' risks of alcoholism and other substance abuse. Robert H. Coombs, Professor of Behavioral Sciences at UCLA, reviewed over 130 studies measuring how marital status affects personal well-being. They "attest that married people live longer and generally are more emotionally and physically healthy than the unmarried." Also, "studies consistently found more alcoholism and problem drinking among the unmarried than the married." The separated and divorced account for 70% of all chronic problem drinkers, and marrieds 15% [Coombs 1991].
  • greatly increases the partners' and children's risks of depression. "Family disruption and low socioeconomic status in early childhood increase the long-term risk for major depression" [Gilman 2003].
  • for men and women, leads to a several times higher rate of psychiatric care than married people. Studies vary, suggesting from 5 to 21 times the risk, and vary over whether men or women are more seriously affected [Marks 1998] and [Bloom 1979].
  • multiplies men's suicide risk, making them nearly 9.7 times likelier than women to commit suicide even after controlling for other risk factors, according to a study by Augustine Kposowa, a University of California at Riverside sociologist [Kposowa 2003]. This study quantified earlier work [Kposowa 2000] that estimated an increased risk of 2.7 times for men. Divorce is now the leading factor linked with suicide.
  • is the leading factor in child suicide and homicide rates [Lester 1993].
  • reduces sons' life expectancy by about 4 years, daughters' by somewhat less, and parents' as well [for example, see [Smock 1993], [US Bureau of the Census 1991], [Dickson 1993], [Arendell 1995], [Amato 1991], and [Joung 1994].
  • children of divorce are 5 times more likely to live in poverty (thus having poorer nutrition, health care, etc.) [McLanahan 1994].

Divorce also greatly increases the chances for

  • stroke See [Engstrom 2004]: "Marital dissolution is followed by an increased incidence of stroke."
  • cancer. Married cancer patients are also more likely to recover than divorced ones [Goodwin 1987].
  • heart problems. Some research suggests that childhood trauma, including parental divorce, can lead to much greater risk of heart attack in later life. See [O'Rand 2005]. Combined with job stress, divorce led to a 69% increase of death rate among men with above average risk of heart disease [Reuters 2002].
  • rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. [Mili 2002] shows a 30% increase in risk at any given age. [Kopec 2003] finds that parental divorce leads to increased risk of arthritis for children later in life.
  • sexually transmitted diseases. For example, in Uganda "Results from a baseline survey of HIV-1 infection in the cohort of over 4,000 adults (over 12 years old) showed a twofold increase in risk of infection in divorced or separated persons when compared with those who are married." [Nabaitu 1994].

Many additional studies show health problems not only for children of divorce, but for children of single-parent families in general, or children of those single-parent families not caused by death of one parent. For example, the rate of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome was 3 times higher when the birth registery indicated both parents but they were unmarried, and 7 times higher when only the mother even appeared on the registry. [Office for National Statistics (UK) 2002].

Yale researcher Harold J. Morowitz [Morowitz 1975] comments that "being divorced and a nonsmoker is [only] slightly less dangerous than smoking a pack a day and staying married."

[Wallerstein 2000], which revealed some of these effects, was at first criticized because the subjects were all drawn from an affluent section of California rather than a broader sample. This is a real issue. However, more recent studies have confirmed her findings, and sometimes shown that her sample group was actually better off than average. Perhaps unsurprisingly, families with lower income, education, etc., do somewhat worse than Wallerstein's more advantaged subjects.

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